After sampling other versions of Mercedes' rebranded M-Class, this is our first chance behind the wheel of its new six-cylinder diesel GLE

What is it?

Mercedes will tell you it's a thoroughly revised version of its M-Class SUV, now branded the GLE. Yet, the hard mechanical changes are limited to a new nine-speed automatic gearbox for selected engines. All the GLE's engines are typically cleaner and more fuel efficient than its predecessor's, however.

GLE buyers now have the option of plug-in hybrid technology with the brand new 500 e, while also new is the 450, which effectively keeps the 500 e's 3.0 V6, but without the electric element. The raucous V8 63 is still an option, but most will buy diesel; either the four-cylinder 250 d or the car we're talking about here, the V6 350 d. 

Most, too, will opt for sporty-looking AMG Line trim - it's actually the cheapest way into a 350 d. Adjustable air suspension, 20in alloys, front sports seats, upgraded brakes and a whole host of AMG styling touches are your reward for forking out on the extra cylinders. 

What's it like?

This 350 d should be one of the better GLEs in terms of its dynamic range, given that it has adaptive air suspension instead of steel springs. It also has Mercedes' latest nine-speed auto 'box and a permanent all-wheel-drive system that can split power 50/50 between the axles, or send 100% to each axle as required. Basically, most situations are covered.

Unfortunately, the 350 d rarely manages to feel dynamic, or truly comfortable. The ride quality never really settles at low speed, even with the AMG's suspension in its soft Comfort setting; its large wheels pick up on cracks and rivets too readily. 

Staying in Comfort but adding speed brings about the typical long-wave air suspension verticle body movement, but it's well controlled, so remains pleasant enough. Even at speed, though, there's a constant background fidget as expansion joints and potholes pass beneath. Stiffer Sport mode reins in the GLE's body, but allows too much of the road surface through to the cabin. 

SUVs aren't sports cars, but there's an increasing number that can raise eyebrows on a twisty road - see the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, or Range Rover Sport. The GLE isn't one of this band, unfortunately. Mercedes' standard Direct-Steer speed-sensitive power steering, for instance, feels slow to respond at the front wheels, even in the GLE's stiffer Sport setting.

Grip is good, but you're always aware it's difficult to pick a confident line in fast bends, and there's a fair amount of body lean to contend with. Mid-corner lumps and bumps unsettle things further.

At least the 350's engine is as sweet as ever. There's some light buzz through the controls from low revs, but with a largely snappy gearbox and nine speeds to call upon and a healthy amount of torque ready from 1600rpm, the GLE feels eager to shift its near-2.2 tonne mass. The engine remains pleasantly restrained at a cruise, too, as do wind and road noise.

The good news continues inside starting with the COMAND infotainment system. A bright, clear 8.0in colour screen is set high on the dash, and is controlled via a rotary controller on the centre console. It's not as slick as BMW's iDrive, but it's certainly one of the better systems on the market. The AMG's (man-made) leather-stitched dash top and chrome accents lift the cabin, although some creaking dash trims and switchgear are more disappointing.

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Front space is excellent and comfort is helped by the electric adjustment for the steering wheel and seat. Three adults will sit in the rear, although two will sit more comfortably, with good head and legroom. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat to open out the GLE's already competitively sized and nicely shaped 690-litre boot. 

Should I buy one?

Just like the M-Class before it, the GLE offers good space, but it now adds better infotainment and improved quality. There's more standard equipment than before, too, with features such as a reversing camera, LED headlights with high-beam assist, a powered tailgate, keyless entry and start, sat-nav and climate control thrown in on every car. 

This 350 d AMG Line will cost you £56,280. However, for £2k less, BMW will sell you its BMW X5 xDrive30d M Sport, for nearly £6k less Porsche will give you a Porsche Cayenne Diesel or for a similar saving, Volvo's range-topping Inscription Volvo XC90 D5 is another option.

All of these cars ride and handle more competently - particularly the Cayenne - all manage to feel more luxurious and offer similarly long kit lists, while being just as or more spacious. In the cases of the BMW and Volvo, there are more seats and far better fuel economy and emissions, too.

Unfortunately, in this rapidly improving class, there are now more reasons to choose a rival. 

Mercedes-Benz GLE350 d AMG Line

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £56,280; Engine 6cyls, 2987cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 255bhp at 3400rpm; Torque 457Ib ft at 1600rpm; Kerb weight 2175kg; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 42.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 179g/km, 33%

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Sundym 27 February 2016


Still too much ssanyong in side profile for me (not a compliment) and I think we will all laugh at the tablet integration in 10-20 years , looks awful , if Halfords sold that as an accessory it would be sneered at .
Cobnapint 26 February 2016

Merc have lost a bit of focus here

They just have too big a range of vehicles, and this important one clearly needs a bit more care and attention, particularly in the looks department.
abkq 26 February 2016

A rounded front grafted onto

A rounded front grafted onto a rectilinear body. This kind of incoherence continues inside where the revised central air vents with rounded corners clash badly with the side air vents with sharp edges. Sure, this is a detail, but betrays the lack of overall direction and design finesse under Gordon Wegener.